A 10-Song Introduction To BJ Barham & The Music Of American Aquarium

A group of people standing outside
Joshua Black Wilkins

With the release of their new album Lamentations, American Aquarium’s BJ Barham as firmly cemented his seat at the table with some of country music’s best songwriters right now. But the fact of the matter is, he’s been doing it for years.

A fellow North Carolinian, BJ Barham formed the band in 2005 in his college dorm room. And while the members of the band have changed over time, they’ve since released 11 albums, including their previously mentioned, recently released masterpiece, Lamentations.

If you know, you already know… but if you’re not familiar with their music, that’s why we’re here.

Here’s 10 songs to get you started:

“Better South” – Lamentations

A lot of people have a lot to say about the South. No matter what’s going on or what year we’re in, it seems like everyone has an opinion. Not many are as important as people like Barham, who were raised there and have experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly. He lends us his first-hand thoughts on some of the problems with unapologetic honesty.

“Saturday Nights” – Burn. Flicker. Die

This bluesy, sensual track is so rock & roll. With Barham’s raspy, distinct voice and the electric guitar backing him, it’s just fun to listen to and sing along to. Makes me ready to go back to a seedy dive bar ASAP.

“I Hope He Breaks Your Heart” – Dances For the Lonely

A good old fashioned break-up song, Barham details his bitterness and life after a girl he was in love with leaves. My favorite line comes when he says “I could never take my eyes off of you.” His contempt comes through quite obviously in the lyrics; point being, he hopes the girl gets her heart broken by her new guy- just as cruelly as she did to Barham.

“The World Is on Fire” – Things Change

The best musicians write songs that are timeless. And, with the year we’ve had in 2020, this song is freakishly apropos. “The load is heavy and the road is long”, says Barham who believably could’ve written this song this year. It was originally released in 2018, but it will be a favorite of mine forever.

“The Luckier You Get” – Lamentations

An ode to hard-working, blue collar America, this one will make you want to run through a brick wall. Barham encourages the listener with advice from his own father. Work hard, get “lucky.” It’s essentially Barham’s take on the American dream and how to achieve everything you want in life and it’s quite solid counsel.

“Reidsville, Small Town Hymns

Barham was raised a small-town boy in Eastern North Carolina. This track details his experience in dealing with everything that comes along with that. He sends a poignant message to anyone who knows what it’s like to live in a small town; “It seems like our fate’s already been sealed in Reidsville.”

“Southern Sadness” – Wolves

And we’re back to the South. Another important track, the lyrics tell a story about what grips the lead singer and how he processes everything he knows about where he comes from and the place he loves so much. His heart is held captive by an experience he sometimes hates but can never let go of, because it has a hand in everything he does and how he views the world. It’s just a little… complicated.

“Before the Dogwood Blooms” – Lamentations

This song is fun juxtaposition of sing along, with heartbreaking lyrics. It takes the perspective of a truck-driver who is running illegal products to pay the bills, but ultimately, his circumstance catches up with him when the police are hot on his trail.

“Burn. Flicker. Die.” – Burn. Flicker. Die

The title track of Barham’s fifth full-length album and produced by Jason Isbell, this song takes a birds-eye view of life and the human condition. “When we burn too long we flicker and die”. And ain’t that the truth.

“Old North State” – Wolves

I am extremely biased, but this is my absolute favorite American Aquarium song of all time. It’s essentially a love letter to North Carolina, which is my favorite kind of letter. Few people capture what it means to miss home the way Barham can. “Where the weak grow strong, and the strong grow great,” here’s to down home in the Old North State à la American Aquarium.

BONUS: “Losing Side Of Twenty-Five”

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock